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Putting your individuality into what you cook

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When you write a cooking column (or two, in my case) you depend on the internet as much as anything else. It is daunting for a writer who wants to come up with stories when you know that readers can find virtually any recipe to cook any ingredient just as easily as you can.

If you don't know how amazing the results are when you search for a recipe, try it! Type something simple, like biscuits, into a search engine like Google--known as Googling--and you will be surprised by the number of results that appear in a split second. This is good for cooks and good for writers. While there is merit in simple recipes for things that are commonly made, some exotic ingredient or an idea for a dish can send you on a very interesting journey through cyberspace.

Some things make sense as go-to recipes, like my Big Six bread recipe, which I am making up as I write this afternoon. I committed it to memory ages ago, and since I want to make all our bread I will be making it about once a week, or more frequently sometimes. So if there is something you really like, such as a particular cookie or main dish, finding a recipe that comes out just right is easy with the internet, and always a good idea.

There was actually one recipe that my mother never found, but I have recovered it. It is a recipe for cheesecake the way her mother made it. This version of cheesecake is popular with immigrants from Central Europe--my mother was Polish by descent--and it contains a kind of cheese called Farmer's Cheese (although there is a Polish name as well) and no lemon juice or zest. I prowled the internet looking for something that might be it, and when I found it I was amazed that Polish and central-European-style cheesecake recipes are so easy to find. That's great because it took me quite some time to think about searching it.

Now that I have the recipe, I will also experiment with dairy substitutes and see if I can't come up with a dairy-free Polish cheesecake. That would be a neat trick; my mother would appreciate it.

POLISH CHEESECAKE (SERNIK)

Ingredients:

Crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
5 ounces (1-1/4 sticks) cold butter
2 large egg yolks
3 Tablespoons sour cream

Filling:

10 Tablespoons butter at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 pounds dry curd cheese (twaróg or quark cheese), processed in a blender or food processor until smooth

To make the crust: In a large bowl or food processor, mix the flour, sugar and baking powder. Cut in the butter as for pie dough. If you are using a food processor, pulse the crust several times to combine the ingredients.

In a separate bowl, mix together the egg yolks and sour cream and add them to the flour, mixing only until combined. If the dough is too dry, add an extra whole egg. If dough is too soft to roll, refrigerate for 1 hour.

Butter a 13-by-9-inch pan lightly. Roll the dough large enough to line the pan and come up the sides. Fit the crust into the pan, making a crimped or rolled edge.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla until well incorporated. Mix in the cheese thoroughly.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Lower the mixer speed to its slowest setting, and fold them into the cheese mixture. Pour the filling into the prepared pan.

If you have leftover dough, roll it into pencil shapes and lay them diagonally across the top of the cheesecake to make a traditional Polish decoration, if you wish. Bake the cheesecake 50-60 minutes or until the center is only slightly soft and the top has not browned. Let the cheesecake cool completely in the oven, with the door open and the heat turned off, before moving it to the refrigerator to chill. Serve cool or cold.

It appears to me that the crust element of this recipe is just as traditional as the filling. That's interesting.

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